Join the Puzzle Platoon in LALT’s ‘Van Choc Straw’

From left, Stephen Fasel, Gwen Lewis and Pat Beck. Photo by Salvador Zapien/
Los Alamos Daily Post

The world premiere of the full-length version of Van Choc Straw by Marc Dunn took place Friday, March 1 at Los Alamos Little Theatre.

A shorter version of Van Choc Straw was produced as a radio play on KUNM Radio a year ago. The shorter version will be LALT’s entry in the New Mexico AACTFest March 21-24.

Van Choc Straw takes place in the basement of Althea Witlin’s (Pat Beck) home. Because of her age, Althea is being forced to sell her home and move in with her younger sister Ina (Bronwyn Gordon)—although neither of them likes the idea much.

When a young couple, Leif (Steve Fasel) and Connie (Rose Corrigan), come to look at the house, they and Althea’s mentally disabled neighbor Maddie (Gwen Lewis) become involved in a project to put together the only jigsaw puzzle in Althea’s collection that she hasn’t completed.

The endearing characters are the best thing about Van Choc Straw. The audience is drawn to each of the characters as they are revealed over the course of the puzzle project.

Pat Beck gives a superb performance as the warm and whimsical Althea. She presents us with a woman who life has wounded, but not vanquished.

Gwen Lewis, as the mentally disabled Maddie is another standout. She does a great job with this difficult role, capturing Maddie’s loveable nature and bubbly good will as well as her odd quirks and childishness.  

Bronwyn Gordon brings an underlying softness to the role of grumpy, irascible sister Ina that is hard to resist.

Steve Fasel and Rose Corrigan as the young couple present a vulnerability that draws the audience to their characters.

The ensemble does a wonderful job of portraying the growing cohesion of the Puzzle Platoon.

I’ll be interested to see the shorter version of the play. The pacing of the early scenes seems slow, and I wonder if some cutting might actually improve it.

It will be interesting to see if the character development necessary for the play to work can happen with fewer words and less time on stage.

Van Choc Straw was directed by Mimi Adams, assisted by her son Sequayah Adams-Rice, and produced by John Gustafson.

The team has done a good job bringing together a cast that works in harmony. I suspect the cast and crew have formed the kind of bonds among disparate souls that the play is all about.

Show times for Van Choc Straw are 7:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 16 and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 10. Tickets are $12 ($10 for students and seniors) and available at CB Fox and at the door. The theatre is at 1670 Nectar St. in Los Alamos.

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